Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Author Visit: Tom Vowler


Good morning, all! Tom Vowler's short story collection The Method won the Scott Prize a couple of years ago, and he stopped by to talk about that then.  This week, his fantastic debut novel What Lies Within was published by Headline. (I've read it, it's very good). He's here to talk to you about it. 

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Saturday 4th May will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of What Lies Within. This giveaway is open worldwide. 

Pull up a seat! x

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Tom - welcome back!

Thanks for having me back. 


Tell us how life has changed for you since the publication of The Method

I suppose I’m happy to term myself a writer now without feeling pretentious or disingenuous. The collection you mention took form over several years, fitted around life’s tumult. But writing is a job now, with disciplined hours and deadlines to honour. Perhaps some of the fun recedes, but it’s a fortunate way to spend one’s days. 


Can you pitch What Lies Within to the lovely blog readers?

It’s a psychological suspense novel set largely on the brooding uplands of Dartmoor. Here’s the blurb:

Living in a remote farmhouse, Anna and her family are close to nature, surrounded by the haunting beauty of the moor. But when a convict escapes from the nearby prison, their isolation begins to feel more claustrophobic than free. Fearing for her children's safety, Anna's behaviour becomes increasingly irrational.

Meanwhile, a young idealistic teacher has just started her first job, determined to 'make a difference'. But when she is brutally attacked by one of her students, her version of events is doubted by even those closest to her. Struggling to deal with the terrible consequences, she does what she can to move on and start afresh. 

As the two narratives converge, the tension builds to a devastating denouement, shattering everything you thought you believed about nature, nurture and the true meaning of family.


What is its publication story?

Shortly after my collection of stories won a couple of prizes, a few publishers were interested in the novel, which is a thrilling yet terrifying time for a writer, sensing you are close to a book deal. It’s been wonderful working with my editor, seeing the novel realize its potential.


What sparked the idea for the book?

As with much of my fiction, its genesis emerged from a single news cutting, a story that both appalled and fascinated me, of one woman’s bravery in the face of terrible circumstances. From there all else – characters, setting, plot – emerged pretty quickly.


How long did it take to write?

Around two years, perhaps a little longer. First drafts come relatively quickly for me, then I sculpt away forever. 


What research did you do?

For me this is the most exciting time, discovering new worlds and the people who occupy them. My main character is a potter, so I spent hours watching a friend fashion his ceramics, having a go myself, producing the obligatory nondescript ‘bowl’. Other facets of the book were less fun to research, as I scoured the darker aspects of human behaviour. I spent a lot of time getting to know the moor, its flora and fauna, the people who live and work there, the prison at its heart. 


Talk to us about Dartmoor and the role place has in What Lies Within. 

Landscape has become increasingly important to me in my work, often becoming a ‘character’ itself, and Dartmoor acts well as an allegory for both the story and the people in it, its terrain bleak and bog-ridden one minute, beguiling and beautiful the next. My characters are products of the moor, rather than merely its inhabitants, their lives inexorably bound to its capricious nature. It is a place of contrasts, of epic and haunting beauty, where, for my characters, wonderful and terrifying things occur.


You’ve now worked, as a writer, with a large publishing company and a small one. How have the journeys differed? 

As you might expect, the scale is somewhat different, but essentially the process is the same. I suppose I feared working with a large publishing house that I’d lose a sense of control, for example during editing or when it came to the book’s cover, but this didn’t prove the case. And it’s exciting to be out in hardback this time as well. 


What do you know now about the industry, which you didn’t when you set out?

That it’s much like any other: dynamic, ruthless, vulnerable, flawed.


What’s the one main piece of advice you would give to an aspiring writer?

‘To write a little each day, without hope and without despair.’ Not my words, but I’m happy to borrow them. Forget, for now, the distraction of being published, of ego. Write the best book you can, and if it’s not, write another. The rest will take care of itself.


What are you writing at the moment?

Another novel, with similar themes, of a person desperate to keep their past from encroaching upon their new life.


Thanks, Tom! All the very best of luck. 





Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Saturday 4th May will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of What Lies Within. This giveaway is open worldwide. 


Friday, 26 April 2013

eight trains and a bus

This week I've spent over 20 hours on trains heading to 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' events in Southampton, and up in Scotland. It's been rather exhausting but extremely fun and lovely. At the moment, I'm on a train back to London. (As well as other newly-made friends), I made this friend in Wigtown. His name is Rupert. I tried to take him home with me, but sadly failed.


Bookshop dogs are the best kind of dogs.

Thanks so much to those who have been coming along to events - next week I'm going to be in Oxford, Dulwich and Salisbury. Full details over here.

In other news, I found out this week that I'm on the shortlist for this year's Jane Martin Poetry Prize, and I'm completely thrilled that my poetry colleciton The Hungry Ghost Festival has been reviewed over at Sphinx Review. They seemed to like it. Here are a couple of things the reviewers had to say:


Charlotte Gann:

My favourite poem in this pamphlet is its opening one – ‘Kitchen’ – which also seems to me to embody what I enjoyed most about the work generally. ‘Kitchen’ strikes me, above all else, as celebratory. Despite having its context – a teenage, coming-of-age (coming-out?) rooted in a particular time and place – it captures something universal about liberation, and stepping through an invisible door to fearless living:

What would you do if I died right now, here, you asked,
your hand still resting on my thigh. Your eyes focused on the ceiling,
on the splash of curry sauce to the left of the light which doesn’t work.
We could have been in a field.
A wooden spoon dug into my back.
I thought it funny.
Let’s not talk of death where food is prepared, I said.

I like the line about the field – and Campbell’s confidence in including it...



Marcia Menter:

...Campbell does bring me right inside her head. The writing is luminous, immediate, and (yes) magical. I imagine she fell in love with words early, spinning them into shining nets to save herself from a kind of drowning. She’s a real poet, in other words...


Peter Jarvis

...The best in the collection? For me it’s ‘Kitchen’, the first in the pamphlet – a sort of falling-in-love poem with a difference: delicate, sensitive, but bizarre and hugely amusing as well. Jen Campbell has a lot of tricks in her poem-bag and it will be fun to track her future work, to see where she flies.


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The Hungry Ghost Festival is published by The Rialto (£5.50) and is available over here.
Copies are also available from me over here.

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Hope you all have a lovely weekend! x

Monday, 22 April 2013

More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops - out now!


'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' is now officially out! Hurray! The launch was last Thursday at Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. I did a little dance on the pavement when I saw their window display.


I still find it bizarre when I see copies of 'Weird Things...' out in the wild, wondering if I accidentally put them there by mistake.

It was a really lovely evening, and I meant to take lots of photos to show you guys, but I spent most of the evening running around like a headless chicken trying to talk to everyone... and I completely failed on the photo front. Sorry! Close your eyes and imagine lots of books (and quite a lot of wine), and you're there.

The 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' book tour is now underway! I was at Waterstones in Southampton on Saturday and met lots of lovely people, and quite a few Twitter folk came along which was very lovely indeed. Today an extract of 'More Weird Things...' is over at We Love This Book; there was a mention of it in The Independent, and Scott Pack blogged about the book, too.

This week I'm heading up to Scotland. I'll be at Blackwell's in Edinburgh, South Bridge, this Wednesday (24th) for a free event at 6:30, where I'll be talking about 'More Weird Things...' and signing books. From there I head to Wigtown, for a free event at ReadingLasses at 6:30pm this Thursday (25th), which is followed by a dinner for those who want to stay on. Ticket details for the latter are over here.  (& details of more events after those are over here.)

I'd really love to meet more of you along the book tour. Doing 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' events/signings are fun for four reasons:
1. I get to meet lovely readers and chat to them.
2. I get to visit lovely bookshops (and buy too many new books myself. I'll never learn to behave).
3. I get to subtly educate people about ectrodactyly - as it's pretty much unavoidable when I'm signing books. This is both awkward and amusing.
4. Some customers look completely baffled/concerned when they see me standing in a bookshop with copies of books called 'Weird Things...' / 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' I suppose it is pretty meta, and this always makes me giggle.

I hope you all have a wonderful week, and that if you've bought a copy of 'More Weird Things...' it's making you giggle :). Lots of love. xx


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Advice for Self-Published Authors Approaching Bookshops


 Hello folks! Today 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' was in the Daily Mail, and extracts were read out on BBC 6 Music, as well as some other stations, which was very lovely indeed.

Since the Daily Mail article this morning, I have received twenty one (twenty one!) calls here at Ripping Yarns from self-published authors pitching their book to me over the phone. We are an antiquarian bookshop, folks. We do not stock new books.

It's very frustrating seeing so many self-published authors approach bookshops in the wrong way - it happens all the time. So, here is a blog post with some advice for those self-published authors who want to approach bookshops about stocking their book. It's something I've been thinking quite a bit about since doing my talk about bookshops at City University. I hope it's helpful. x

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Advice for Self-Published Authors Approaching Bookshops

Before I start, I'd like to say that I'm a published writer (though I'm not self-published), as well as being a bookseller, so I understand life from both sides of the business.

Firstly: Look up Nicola Morgan’s advice on being self-published. If you decide to self-publish, you have to do the job of everyone within the publishing industry: editing, design, marketing, publicity. Your book has to look professional.

Do your research when it comes to bookshops:

At the moment, I work in an antiquarian bookshop and get so many calls from authors who are clearly just ringing around every bookshop they can Google. As an antiquarian bookshop, we obviously don't stock new books. If you don’t know who you’re approaching, you look unprofessional and it does you no favours at all. Make sure that the bookshop sells grown-up books (if that's what you've written) and isn’t just a children’s bookshop etc.

Like with CVs, tailored emails make such a difference. Don’t write ‘Dear Sir and/or Madam’; it's lazy and implies you don't care. Find out who owns the bookshop - in the age of the internet, that’s not difficult. Likewise don’t email every bookshop at the same time, declaring ‘your bookshop is my favourite!’ when it’s clear by the ‘CCs’ that you’ve sent this email to about thirty different places.

In the email, be friendly and polite. Don’t tell the bookseller your life story. Explain professionally that you have written a book, and could you please send them a copy to read with a view to stocking it.

If you go into the bookshop, instead of emailing, don’t pressure the bookseller. They are busy trying to run the shop and serve customers. (Please please please don’t say something silly like: “I’ve always wanted to work in a bookshop, because you get paid to sit around and read all day.” Running a business is extremely hard. We do not read while we are at work.)

Bookshops get sent so many proof copies from publishing companies, and running a business is very difficult - especially in this climate. Booksellers give up their free time, outside of work, to read these books in order to select more books to sell in their limited shop space. You have to understand that having a publishing deal means that those authors already have a stamp of approval from several people, which makes it easier for the booksellers selecting from the hundreds of thousands of books published each year. Self-published books, I’m afraid, enter the slush pile when they enter a bookshop, like a manuscript would when it enters a publishing house - because that is generally its first port of call. That’s a choice you make when you self-publish.

When you pitch the book to the bookseller, don’t say your mum really likes it. That isn’t going to get other people to like it, or you.

Don’t say that the bookshop should support you because you’re a local author. Especially don’t say that if the bookshop has no idea who you are, and you’re not a regular customer. By your ‘local’ logic, you should be supporting the bookshop because they are local. Being local is not a good reason to support something - being good at what you do is. If your book is good, and the bookseller thinks it’s right for their market, that’s all that matters.

If you can, offer the books on sale or return; this really helps out the bookshop and gives you a greater chance of being successful via a trial run. It also shows you understand how the market works.

After leaving a copy for the bookseller to read: be patient. You can follow up with a friendly email in a few weeks, but don’t call the day after and ask the bookseller if they’ve read it yet. It won’t help you. Also, don't ask your friends/your mother/your neighbour to stop by and ask on your behalf.

Not everyone will like your book. That’s life. If the bookshop politely declines, be gracious. If they do take the book, please don’t call every day asking how many copies they have sold. Let them do their job. Don’t come in and rearrange the books so that they’re in a more prominent place. Don’t stop by and try and badger other customers into buying it.

This might sound like basic stuff, but self-published authors break these unspoken rules every day. Percentage-wise, in my experience, 95% of the self-published authors who have come into bookshops I have worked in have gone about selling themselves and their book in completely the wrong way. Many have been pushy, abrupt with little understanding of the book industry, declaring that they have written the best book in the world and that we, as their local bookshop, owe them a favour.

I beg you, please do not be in this 95%. I don't want you to be! I want that percentage to shrink dramatically. From a bookseller (and a writer) to another writer: I want to like you. At the heart of the matter: writers and bookshops need each other. Bookshops need good books to sell; books benefit from bookshop support and the booksellers' handselling. So if you’re a polite, friendly person who has written a good book that’s been edited properly and physically looks appealing, then that’s all that matters. Obviously a bit of luck when it comes to timing has to be involved, too, but if you approach several bookshops in this well-researched manner then your chances of success are even greater. Good luck! 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Where I'm Going to Be...

(scroll down for events!)

So, More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops is released next week. NEXT WEEK! Eek.

If you track the book down in a bookshop, please do say something delightfully weird to the bookseller
serving you. Ask for a copy that's printed the wrong way up, because you enjoy reading it upside down. Ask for a copy that isn't yellow, because yellow reminds you of bananas and you hate bananas (thanks to Rebecca on the Facebook page for that one), or ask for two copies... because you want to read it twice (thanks to MarieLMcKendry on Twitter for that - that really did make me laugh quite a lot).

So, yes. On 18th April it's officially released in the UK and Commonwealth and you can track it down in a bookshop. If you'd like a signed copy (shipping worldwide), those are available over here.

I'm going to be doing quite a few EVENTS to spread the word about the bizarre world of bookselling. In the next few weeks you can find me at these places below. I really hope to meet some of you guys along the way. If you are local to any of these places, it would be fab if you could come along and say hello. :) xx

Saturday 20th April: I'll be signing books at Waterstones in Southampton West Quay 11am-2pm.

Wednesday 24th April: I'll be doing an event at Blackwell's in Edinburgh (South Bridge) from 6.30pm. It's free. You can reserve a place by calling 0131 622 8222 or emailing events.edinburgh@blackwell.co.uk

Thursday 25th April: I'll be doing two events at Readinglasses in Wigtown in the evening. A signing and talk, and a dinner. Details of those are over here: http://www.reading-lasses.com/events/

Tuesday 30th April: I'll be doing an event 7pm at Blackwell's in Oxford at 7pm. Tickets are £3 and can be reserved by calling 01865 333623

Thursday 2nd May: I'll be doing a free event and signing at Village Books in Dulwich, London at 7pm.

Saturday 4th May: I'll be signing books at Waterstones in Salisbury 11am-2pm.

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I'm doing more events in June and July - I'll do a separate blog post about those later. In the mean time, details of those events are over on my website

Thursday, 4 April 2013

"Where are your audiobooks on sign language?" ... and More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops


My author copies of 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' arrived in the post today. Hurray!

The book will be out in the UK and Commonwealth on the 18th April.

I'll be doing a little book tour. Details of events are over here:
& signed copies are available over here (with worldwide shipping).

x